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Record-breaking Liverpool look unstoppable
WHENEVER the English Premier League (EPL) fixtures are released before the start of the season, two games that invariably stand out on the list are the matches between England's most successful football clubs - Liverpool and Manchester United.
The first game in October last year was, as usual, a scruffy and hot-blooded affair. Liverpool travelled to Old Trafford on the back of a 17-game winning streak, but Manchester United stopped them in their tracks. In fact, the Red Devils were leading 1-0 with just five minutes to go, only for Adam Lallana to tap in from close range to hand a relieved Liverpool a share of the spoils.
That stalemate on Oct 20 sent Liverpool six points clear at the top of the table, and in the three months since then, Jurgen Klopp's players have won the next 12 games to now command a seemingly insurmountable 14-point advantage over their closest challengers, the defending champions Manchester City.
The next opponents to try and stop Liverpool's relentless quest for their first EPL trophy - and a first league championship in 30 years - are Manchester United, the visitors to Anfield on Sunday (Monday 12.30am kick-off, Singapore time).
No stopping the Reds
There's something quite magical about Liverpool this season. The team have been in red-hot form since the start, they have that uncanny ability to turn draws and losing positions into victories, often with heart-stopping injury-time goals from different players in the squad.
It's certainly a fun time to be a Liverpool supporter these days. The goals are flowing and the defence is water-tight (goalkeeper Alisson Becker has only conceded once in his last 10 matches). In fact, it has been over a year since the Reds last tasted defeat in the EPL, a run spanning 38 games (the same number as an entire season) that began with a win at Brighton in January 2019.
Liverpool have claimed all but one piece of silverware available to them this season so far. After narrowly losing the Community Shield to Manchester City on Aug 4, they defeated Chelsea 11 days later in Istanbul to lift the UEFA Super Cup. A second trophy came their way in December. A mid-season jaunt to Qatar's capital Doha saw them crowned world champions, as the Reds won both matches to clinch the Fifa Club World Cup.
Expectedly, Klopp has been forced to rotate his squad heavily to manage the unusually large number of games his team has to handle this season. And on the occasions when he has to rest most of his senior squad, especially for the cup competitions, the bit-part players still find a way to win.
In the FA Cup third round a fortnight ago, Klopp's juniors and reserves took to the field against their city rivals Everton, and 18-year-old midfielder Curtis Jones promptly wrote himself into the club's history books by scoring the only goal of the match. That made him an instant hero as he became Liverpool's youngest goalscorer in a Merseyside derby since Robbie Fowler in March 1994. However, Liverpool's luck ran out in the Carabao Cup when a team of youngsters were crushed 5-0 by Aston Villa in the quarter-finals.
But it is in the EPL where Liverpool are near-perfect. They have won 20 out of 21 fixtures (the draw with Manchester United being the only blip), and it would probably take a breakout of World War III or a nuclear disaster to deny them glory.
Heck, Klopp could even be popping the champagne as early as Easter, if his men keep on winning and the chasing pack falters in the next few weeks. Even the bookies have stopped taking bets on Liverpool winning the title. It's not a matter of if they become champions, but when.
Devils have the psychological edge
If there's one thing in Manchester United's favour, it's their ability to raise their game against the EPL's top sides. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have already claimed the scalps of Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Leicester this season, and they nearly handed Liverpool a first defeat last October.
Historically, Manchester United have proven to be the bogey team for opponents protecting long unbeaten streaks. Under former manager Alex Ferguson, the Devils were responsible for ending Arsenal's proud 49-match undefeated run at Old Trafford in October 2004. In November 2005, Chelsea lost their 40-game unbeaten record to United, also at Old Trafford.
But the Red Devils this season are not the force they once were under Ferguson. This year, they have failed to mount a title challenge once again because they have constantly faltered against teams in the bottom half of the table, with embarrassing losses to the likes of Watford, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth.
That said, Manchester United - a 20-time league champion that last finished on top seven years ago - would love nothing more than to halt the Liverpool juggernaut on their own turf, even if it only delays their rivals' inevitable coronation.
But Solskjaer's already uphill task has been made tougher with his top marksman, Marcus Rashford, a serious doubt after he came off injured in the mid-week FA Cup win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The England striker has 14 goals and four assists from 22 EPL matches, and he usually does well against the bigger teams.
Solskjaer will hope Rashford is fit enough to at least make the substitutes' bench. Given the rampant form that Liverpool is in at the moment, the Norwegian boss will need his full arsenal at his disposal if he is to have any hope of leaving Anfield with a positive result.